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Candids > 2007 > [April 10] Leaving Area Club in West Hollywood, CA
Was the Gary Hart scandal something that was on your radar prior to making this film?
A few years before I got the script, I was listening to the podcast Radiolab in my car. The episode was about Gary Hart and what had happened to him, and everything about it was really interesting; I couldn’t believe I didn’t already know about it, or that people weren’t talking more about the whole situation. A few years later, I got the script for The Front Runner and I was so excited because I already knew the story.
Donna Rice never really got a fair shake; she went from unknown to talk-show punchline almost overnight. What made you want to play her?
I’ve always been a huge fan of Jason’s films, and the opportunity to work with him was very exciting. I also loved his script and the way that he and his co-writers wrote Donna. It could have gone a couple of different ways, and I was so happy that she was written with respect and dignity. It felt like her side of the story was being told.
She is portrayed in a way that feels honest, but that’s not something that’s always been done before.
I was tentative at first, wondering what it would be like and which Donna we would be portraying; I get chills every time I think about it. Thirty years ago, she was seen as a caricature and a one-dimensional person, but in the script, from the very first version I read, she was a fully-fledged human with so much to her that was never previously talked about. It was intimidating; not only have I never played a living person before—someone who can watch the film or read this interview—but I was also portraying this woman in the darkest moment of her life, and I was so happy that everybody involved wanted that done with respect.
Did you spend any time with Rice prior to playing her? Was that even something that would be part of your process?
It was a question I asked myself when I got the role. I knew Hugh was meeting with Gary and they were spending time together, but in that moment, Jason and I agreed that because I wasn’t trying to mimic her in any way, it didn’t feel necessary. I haven’t met her, but I would love to. Jason called me and told me he showed the film to her and she told him she loved it. For me, that’s all that matters.
You started making the film before the 2016 election, which is the most recent example of the kind of intense scrutiny that began with Hart. What was it like to watch that unfold having made this film?
Being a part of this film, which is based off a book by Matt Bai, who co-wrote the movie, doesn’t leave me with any answers. I just have more questions. And the movie offers those same questions to the audience to debate and decide for themselves. One of the things people seem to ask themselves after seeing the movie is whether these big-deal events are actually happening more than ever before, or if it only feels that way because the news is delivered to us in ways that are getting faster.
Does playing this part give you a sense of sympathy for anyone under the glare of the political spotlight?
Of course. There’s just so much I didn’t know about things like how journalists would ride airplanes with a candidate and could just go up and talk to them. Today, everything’s rehearsed and practiced and there are thick walls you have to pass through to get to people. And what happens in this movie is the reason why.
Sara Paxton has been making her mark in the film industry for most of her life. At only 30 years old, she is already a two-decade veteran of show business. Having been acting professionally since the age of six, it’s likely you’ll recognise her face. In her career, she’s curated a smart mix of projects, showing her versatility as an actress. Whether charming in her role as a mermaid in teen flick Aquamarine, playing depraved games in the dark comedy Cheap Thrills or being brutally murdered in The Last House on the Left, Paxton seamlessly traverses each genre with extraordinary skill. Not many child stars can speak of carrying on with such a zealous consistency in the ruthless business of acting but speaking to Paxton, it’s clear that she has never been phased by the bright lights.
Paxton tells us the unlikely story of how she came to acting. “When I was a little kid, my cousins and I would do print ads for the paper modelling the clothes. The photographer gave my cousins and I a business card for a commercial agent. My mom didn’t think twice about it but my cousin went and started taking acting classes! This made me insanely jealous and so I begged my mom to go too!” Years on, she was balancing a serious acting career with school, but Paxton remained level-headed about it. “I didn’t think of what I was doing as a career. I thought of it as my after-school activity that I loved. It was tough at times but being in regular school was very important to me,” she says. Paxton stuck to school of her own volition, even if it meant putting in extra work when she was off working on sets, going so far as to ask her friends to fax her all the homework and notes she missed. “I auditioned and fought for everything I worked on in my teen years and I am very proud of that and am so grateful that I was able to be a kid but still have those amazing experiences.” Ultimately, the love of acting eclipsed everything else.
The latest instalment in Paxton’s multifaceted career holds up a mirror to America. This year she returns to the big screen in the political drama The Front Runner. The film tells the true story of Senator Gary Hart, who was set to run as the 1988 Democratic presidential nomination until this was upended by an allegation of an affair with model Donna Rice. “[It] was the first scandal of its kind and changed the trajectory of politics forever,” Paxton explains. As she promotes the film the political situation in the States seems to be the elephant in the room. With the last presidential campaign and current White House being marred by similar (and even more shocking) scandals, the film is understandably causing a stir. “I think this is an important story because it is so relevant to today. It’s a moment in our history that surprisingly isn’t well known but is the story of how we got to now. It marks a turning point in the relationship between politicians and the media and the breakdown of preexisting barriers between personal and professional reporting,” the actress tells us.
In the film, Paxton takes up the role of the infamous Donna Rice, who was vilified by the American press when images of her surfaced with the senator (played in the film by Hugh Jackman). “I think that at the time, Donna was portrayed as a one-dimensional person. A caricature.” It seems 30 years later, Rice is finally getting her due. “The reason why I loved the script so much upon reading it was because of how Donna was written. With dignity and respect and as a real person,” she goes on, “I think this film finally gives Donna the voice she never had.” In 2018, the conversation on women in sexual misconduct cases has evolved and with the revival of the Hart-scandal, Paxton felt the immense pressure to do Rice justice. “When I got the role of Donna, I suddenly realized I had a huge responsibility of playing a real person! A woman who is alive today and can see what I say about the film and my performance. This was extremely intimidating […] I wasn’t looking to mimic her in anyway. My only concern was capturing the empathy of this woman in this terrible situation.”
What can we expect to see next from Sara Paxton? Right now, she’s really set on returning to music. Paxton has shown her vocal talent with brief musical stints in the past and she now has her eyes cast on taking this to the next level. “I love musicals! So I think big dream come true would be able to sing in a film!” With an impressive list of roles under her belt, we know Paxton can do it all. We’ll keep our eyes peeled for what she brings us next.
Photoshoots > Session #41
Role: Donna Rice
Release Date: November 21st (USA)
American Senator Gary Hart’s presidential campaign is derailed when he’s caught in a scandalous love affair.
Movies >  The Front Runner > Still